2012-11-19

The Catwalk: Fashion Show Photography Tips

It’s been a number of years since I earned a proper living from photography but I always enjoyed the biannual event of London Fashion week; long days, early mornings and late nights with a copious amount of waiting thrown into the mix until you have 5 minutes of frantic shooting during the show. A catwalk shoot is a mash of technical ability, catlike reflexes and an eye for composition.

Fashion Show Catwalk Photography


Arrive early & Pick your spot


Shooting a fashion show is, unlike a fashion shoot, mostly down to your location within the pit. Most will opt for a central location so to shoot straight onto the upcoming models, others (who either arrived late or don’t have a location marked out) end up shooting from the fringes. This does allow for some interesting shots but will only give one or two that can be used from any one show. So unless you work for a national newspaper that just needs that one shot to capture the model of the week its best to go for a more central location where you’ll be more likely to get a greater number of sell-able photos.






Respect the photographers around you



At the big fashion shows photographers are let in at the start of the week to mark up their spots; this is done in order with the big press agencies such as Getty and Reuters let in first as they are most likely to give the most exposure to the designers. There will almost always be a “house” photographer. They shoot for the designers themselves and will always have the best spot.

This leads to it becoming like a scrum in the centre, with several hundred photographers and videographers cramming into a small space to get the best position. This is always particularly civilised up until the start of the show. There is strictly no moving when the show starts, when you’re snapping away you don’t want people knocking you, especially as you only have three or four seconds to get the shot. And as people endeavour to get into this central position you end up seeing people standing on flight cases and ladders, with people moving around it can be quite dangerous.



Use a fast shutter speed

Probably the most surprising thing about shooting a catwalk is that the amount of available light, set-up mainly to help anyone shooting video, there’s a ton of lighting in place days ahead of the show. The designers and organisers obviously want their clothes shown off well, and for that you need light.

The net result is that you can shoot with a reasonable shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Typically you will keep all three constant throughout to help with consistency for editing. Most venues will allow you in for when they test all the lights prior to when the show starts (another good reason to get there early!).


It's OK to use a higher ISO


During my day I would normally shoot at a shutter speed of 1/640sec, aperture of f/5.6 to f/8.0 and at ISO 1000, with a more modern camera I would have preferred to bump the ISO up a little more as the lens I was using was terrible wide open. I hate to say that only a poor workman blames his tools but that certainly doesn't hold true in this instance where low light ability and ISO performance is king.



Know where to set your focus point


I’ll touch on autofocus quickly. Certainly the Canon EOS DSLR I was using held its own and I almost never had an out of focus shot. However, this isn't true with all cameras and lenses – the main difficulty is that the subject is walking towards you - which is always a challenge. 

Most professional cameras these days will be fine with this but if you turn up with an EOS 750D or the like, you will probably struggle. 

The photos in this guide were shot on a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens - which is the perfect focal length for this kind of fashion show catwalk photography.

The best settings to use are AI Servo for Canon or AF-C on Nikon with a single AF point ideally aimed at the head of the model. You may need to move this around as the model comes closer to you and you need to recompose. It is worth remembering this is all happening in 6-10 seconds (depending on how long it takes the model to walk down the catwalk).


So to summarise, know your camera and arrive early to see the venue (and the practice if you can), be prepared to take lots of photos (and don’t change memory cards halfway through the show) as to get ‘The Shot’ you have to be on the ball as it will happen in a fraction of a second.

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